October 10, 2016

The Mistake I Make Every Year, or (How to Slow Down the Sand in the Hour Glass)


I don't care what the Rolling Stones say: time is not on my side. I have 180 days to cram enough knowledge into my students' heads to ensure they will be prepared for fifth grade.

But, let's face it. It's not really 180 days. Things such as snow days, hour (or two) delays, assemblies, field trips, mandatory testing, etc... chip away at those 180 days until I'm left with the tattered fragments of a calendar that delivers far less than it promised. The sand starts to flow and I am never free from the fact that there are fewer and fewer grains in the glass each day.

When I first started teaching I would take the first day of school and rip through policies and procedures like a Chinese fire drill in order to get to the business of teaching. I thought that I was establishing rules and routines when the reality is I most likely had a group of youngsters that were akin to deer stuck in headlights. Yikes!

It was flawed in so many ways. I was in such a mad dash to get things up and running as quickly as possible; only to realize that adjustments needed to be made shortly thereafter. Thus, I would have to go back and reteach the procedures or rearrange groupings. Reteaching took much longer. Regrouping disrupted the flow of information. And, I don't have that kind of time.

Now, as a more seasoned educator, I have learned that slower is better. I don't panic if my reading groups aren't established the first month of school. I am OK with taking a bit more time to scrutinize the DIBELS scores before choosing an intervention to increase fluency. I am still clicking and sorting data to determine exact math needs. It's all OK. 

I always talk about how September is tough and that I much prefer mid-October. By that time, my classroom is a well-oiled machine and the focus is on students learning and watching the growth. I've come to the conclusion that not every cog needs to be in the wheel as soon as possible. It's more important to place the cog correctly. Only when the cogs are properly placed does the machine work efficiently. My goal is the well-oiled machine that needs as few repairs as possible. Slower is the way to get there.

Slower means that my reading groups will start closer to October. There are plenty of things (routines, procedures, expectations) to teach in the interim. Slower means that flexible groupings will be stagnant for a bit, but they will still be flexing where needed. Slower means that I might take 90 minutes to get the students through a 60 minute flexible grouping schedule. It's all OK.

Although I still prefer mid-October when all the "start-up" stuff is established, I have learned to like September more. I have learned to embrace a slower pace in the opening days of the year and to help the students fully digest what learning will look like in my classroom for the next 10 months. I have finally embraced the concept: we go slow to go fast. (I even have a sign nearby to constantly remind me.) Although I still feel sand slipping through my fingers each day, this mantra has helped me to at least slow down a bit and in the process helped the sand slow down too.

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